The shameful DA

New York Daily News
June 4, 2014

The arrogance of power screams from the Department of Investigation report that convincingly accuses former Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes of filching more than $1 million in public money to pay a public relations man for political advice.

Once, decades ago, Hynes was regarded as one of the city’s good guys. He served as the special state Medicaid prosecutor after thefts from the health program for the poor ran rampant. He won accolades as the special prosecutor who won convictions in the Howard Beach racial murder case.

Then, Hynes became Brooklyn district attorney and presided over one of the country’s largest local prosecutor’s offices for 24 years. Virtually guaranteed reelection and essentially accountable to no one, he took to abusing his authority to fulfill an ambition to set a record for longest-serving New York State district attorney.

Hynes’ diversions from an account filled with money seized from drug dealers and other criminal defendants — intended to be used for law enforcement purposes — may well put him in handcuffs as a felon. Based on the DOI report, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appears to have good grounds for a larceny arrest.

According to the report, Hynes steered $1.1 million from the fund to PR strategist Morty Matz from 2003 to 2013. Matching disbursements against thousands of emails, the report details that in 2012 and 2013, Hynes and top aides Dino Amoroso and Amy Feinstein sent $212,824 to Matz, whose work centered on advising Hynes on how he could win reelection.

(Those emails also revealed that Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins, a top administrative judge, had advised Hynes on political strategy, given him legal advice and discussed active cases. Kamins has been relieved of administrative duties and will face the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. He should resign.)

The misuse of money and potential criminal liability for Hynes, Amoroso and Feinstein is clear. Still, theft is the least of Hynes’ crimes. Far more seriously, he perverted the criminal justice system to give free passes when they suited his political needs and to send innocent people to prison.

Eager for the support of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, Hynes declined to prosecute sex abuse cases against members of the insular community. On the other side of the coin, his assistants railroaded defendants guilty of no crime and improperly stacked cases against other suspects.

When challenged on his office’s practices, Hynes fought vehemently to conceal wrongdoing by a top lieutenant that sent a man to prison for life. Now, after dethroning Hynes in November, his successor as DA, Ken Thompson, has vacated the convictions of seven men whom Hynes had sent to prison for long terms. The seventh, Roger Logan, went free Tuesday after serving 17 years.

While stealing lives is far graver than stealing money, there’s no statute against prosecutorial misconduct. Pursuing Hynes, a man who came to believe he was above the law, as a cheap crook will have to do.